Group 20 rugby league
CHRIS Bamford has blindsided the Bidgee Hurricanes by walking out on the Group 20 club just weeks out from the start of the new season.
In a shock development, the hulking forward has failed to return from what was supposed to be a brief visit to his native New Zealand to see his family.
Bamford told Hurricanes officials nearly three weeks ago that he needed to go back home for a week but it now appears the 30-year-old has played his last game in Australia.
"I honestly think he's gone for good. I'd nearly bet my house on that," new Bidgee coach Simon Watson told The Area News.
"That's the word and it's very disappointing.
"He's definitely a great player and will be sadly missed."
Watson, who took the coaching reins from Bamford at the end of last season, said the Kiwi seemed distracted at times throughout Bidgee's pre-season training campaign.
"To be honest, when we were training early in the season he didn't seem his normal self. That's the vibe I got," he said.
"There was no dramas with the footy club. He just started to lose interest and said he wanted to go back to New Zealand for a week and come back.
"We gave him the go-ahead and all of a sudden we hear he's not going to come back. That's as much as I know."
While opposition clubs will be cheering, Bamford is a huge loss not only to the Hurricanes, but also to Group 20 as a whole and the Riverina representative side that is reforming this year.
Watson said Bamford's sheer presence in the squad was partly what attracted him to the coaching role at the joint-venture club.
"When you've got nearly the best prop in the bush you can't really go wrong," he said.
"I had some structres and gameplans I had in place for him and I reckon he would have absolutely carved up this year.
"I was going to use him very differently to how he used himself, because I believe he never used himself to his full potential.
"He wasn't getting the best out of himself. I would have used him in the middle of the field, going against the halves with a fullback or five-eighth trailing him.
"He's really light on his feet and I thought that would have been brilliant, but it's just not going to happen now."
Considered one of the best props in Country Rugby League, Bamford made headlines on both sides of the Tasman last year when he was suspended for bizarrely wiping his blood across the face of TLU skipper Brent Pike.
The Bidgee committee is on the lookout for a replacement but is finding that task supremely difficult given the timing.
Watson said Bamford's departure is no reason to think the Hurricanes will be any less of a force this year, pointing to the club's record during his three-week suspension last year as proof.
With Bamford on the sidelines, Bidgee beat preliminary finalists Yenda and then won on the road against Hay, only falling away to West Wyalong.
"As a unit, these boys pick up better when he's playing, because he plays it individually," Watson said.
"But I would have changed that."
New forward pack signings Anfo Leao-Seve, Ronnie Bamblett and Soni Vuadreu - all from Yenda - will be expected to step up in Bamford's absence.
"The timing is very poor, but this has happened to us and we've got to face what's in front of us now," Watson said.
Meanwhile, Watson also confirmed Bidgee has lost star trio Daniel Hyde, Kurt Wilton and Glenn Staines for this season.
Of the three, only Wilton is a chance of returning at some stage this season. Hyde has moved away to play with his brother, while Staines has shifted to Western Australia.